It actually IS normal, but it's not right

I keep hearing and reading this phrase, "This is not normal." It's being applied to the changes already happening in our government, the limitation of individual freedoms, and the expectations of more changes and limitations yet to come after the inauguration. The phrase is a way for people to share their outrage that the ideals and protocols that govern a democratic society are being systematically eroded, and a way to note that we mustn't become complacent or tolerant of these erosions.

I agree that we should not become complacent about these erosions, but as an historian, I must point out that when we say this is not normal, we are ignoring thousands of years of world history and hundreds of years of American history that show us that dictatorships, abuses of power, corruption, and acts of terror in service to social control are, in fact, frighteningly normal among human beings. From Haiti to South Africa to Rwanda to Tibet to Ireland to Poland to Russia to Mongolia to the Americas to the Pacific Islands, we have seen voluminous evidence of the hard, cruel hand of the privileged elite at the throat of human freedom for the sake of profit, to justify the enslavement of human beings and the theft of resources, and to place a small group of people in power over a large group of people.

The reality is that what is currently happening in the United States IS normal in the wider context of human history and the abuse of power...but it's not right. 

This is why it is imperative that we focus on becoming warrior bodhisattvas. The warrior bodhisattva does not seek to harm anyone or anything, does not puff herself up with arrogance, does not congratulate himself about eviscerating another's well-being. Rather, the warrior bodhisattva knows that in order to create balance and harmony, the path within must remain gentle regardless of what might occur on the path without.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche wrote this about becoming a spiritual warrior:

We tend to think that the threats to our society or to ourselves are outside of us. We fear that some enemy will destroy us. But a society is destroyed from the inside, not from an attack by outsiders. We may imagine the enemy coming with spears and machine guns to kill us, massacre us. In reality, the only thing that can destroy us is within ourselves. If we have too much arrogance, we will destroy our gentleness. And if we destroy gentleness, then we destroy the possibility of being awake, and then we cannot use our intuitive openness to extend ourselves in situations properly. Instead, we generate tremendous aggression.

How, amidst the turmoil of a society that is being steered by a sociopath, with a populace made up of individuals so concerned with their own welfare that they would deny the welfare of others, can we find gentleness? Is it even appropriate to find gentleness at this time? Are we foolish to think gentleness has a seat at the table in these conditions? Questions like these lead us toward aggression if we allow them to, if we allow ourselves to answer from our fear rather than our wisdom. Wisdom points us back to Rinpoche's words, and the acknowledgement that if we do not generate and practice gentleness, we risk becoming just like the aggressors we fear and distrust. 

So, in order to truly touch the heart of gentleness, and to understand the vastness of the power of gentleness, we cannot turn away from thousands of years of world history and hundreds of years of American history that point to the truth: that what is happening right now IS normal in the scope of human behavior. But even though it is normal, it's not right. We must do better, and we can do better if we begin within.

Don't forget, we also have thousands of years of history to show us that no matter how many despots have come along they have all failed eventually, that humanity's need for goodness has always prevailed, and that it has prevailed through individual acts of gentleness: neighbors helping neighbors, parents helping their children, children helping elders, the wealthy helping the impoverished, those with privilege helping the underprivileged. Ours can be a revolution of helping one another through these difficult times, and emerging stronger for having found our gentleness.

Breathe deeply. Stay with your heart. Rise, and be helpful. Down this path is the surest way to create the type of history that runs counter to the longstanding, all-too-normal narrative of abuse.